Why The Assembly Of Salad Niçoise Has Been Debated

Close your eyes and picture the perfect Salad Niçoise. Does it have seared tuna or canned tuna? Are there artichoke hearts, green beans, or potatoes? There must be lettuce, right? It turns out that if you put any of the aforementioned fare in your Salad Niçoise, you're not being truly authentic. 

According to the New Yorker, the widely-accepted standard formula for Salad Niçoise is as follows — tuna and anchovies, both canned in olive oil, served with lettuce, tomatoes, olives, green peppers, basil, potatoes, and green beans, dressed with olive oil and occasionally a splash of vinegar. However, this iteration has received harsh blowback from some residents of Nice, the origin and namesake of Salad Niçoise.

In 2012, the Times of Malta spoke to Renee Graglia, a Nice resident and then-president of the Cercle de la Capelina d'Or, an organization devoted to preserving the culinary history of Nice and its surroundings in the French Riviera. She claims that the standard iteration of Salad Niçoise, as seen in the New Yorker, is inauthentic, and she places the blame squarely on the shoulders of one man. 

Auguste Escoffier was a chef, born just outside of Nice in 1846, and it was he who first recorded the aforementioned formula for salad Niçoise — including the particularly controversial additions of green bean and potato. However, the debate over this particular salad goes far beyond those two ingredients.

The original Salad Niçoise had no lettuce or tuna

No ingredient is more closely associated with Salad Niçoise than tuna, and no ingredient is more closely associated with salad in general than lettuce. However, neither of these ingredients appeared in the first iteration of Salad Niçoise, according to Graglia. She told the Times of Malta that the original version of the dish had only three ingredients — fresh tomatoes, canned anchovies, and olive oil, and it wasn't even a salad.

Salad Niçoise originated with a type of sandwich called pan bagnat, which is still popular in Nice. The aforementioned combination of tomatoes, anchovies, and oil was served over bread that was days, or even weeks old, the oil and tomato juice serving to somewhat rehydrate the stale loaf, per the New Yorker. It was a simple food for poor people, Graglia told the Times of Malta, but at this point, the dish has been through so many iterations that it is difficult to strictly define. 

The Cercle de la Capelina d'Or will accept the slightly updated formula — tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, tuna (canned, not fresh), spring onions, Niçoise olives, and basil. To dress the salad, rub the bowl with garlic and mix with olive oil, salt, and no more than a few drops of vinegar.